NHL Playoffs Preview & Predictions
SI.com's NHL writers Darren Eliot, Adrian Dater, Sarah Kwak and Brian Cazeneuve share their predictions for the postseason. Click here for Stu Hackel's playoff thoughts and observations.
 
First Round Matchups
 
EASTERN CONFERENCE
 
1Washington Capitals
8New York Rangers
KWAK: Caps' D too much for depleted Rangers
WESTERN CONFERENCE
 
1Vancouver Canucks
8Chicago Blackhawks
DATER: Pressure's on Luongo to slay Hawks
 
2Philadelphia Flyers
7Buffalo Sabres
KWAK: Pronger, goalies key to Flyers' survival
 
2San Jose Sharks
7Los Angeles Kings
DATER: Sharks smell blood with wounded Kings
 
3Boston Bruins
6Montreal Canadiens
ELIOT: B's take hotly-contested series
 
3Detroit Red Wings
6Phoenix Coyotes
DATER: Proud Wings hold off popgun Yotes
 
4Pittsburgh Penguins
5Tampa Bay Lightning
ELIOT: Bolts' power play zaps Penguins
 
4Anaheim Ducks
5Nashville Predators
DATER: Preds will prevail in hardcore series
 
Eastern Conference Champion
 
ELIOT
The Bruins play fast hockey and also heavy hockey. With Tim Thomas in goal and back to his Vezina-winning form, they will distance themselves from last season's stunning playoff meltdown.
DATER
The Bruins have everything you'd seemingly want to make a run to the Cup final for the first time since 1990, starting with the best 1-2 goalie tandem in the conference and an improved offense.
KWAK
It'll be all or nothing with the Capitals. For better or worse, this lady's going all in. Through a roller coaster season, experiencing slumps and streaks, this season's Caps are better able to adapt than previous editions and will pay off.
CAZENEUVE
If the Capitals get by the pesky Rangers, who gave them fits this season, their confidence is likely to grow, especially if they can find the fine line between letting their skill players play and being more vigilant about defense. A rested Alex Ovechkin won't hurt.
Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
Source: SI
Darren Eliot breaks down the biggest storylines from the West heading into the playoffs.
 
Western Conference Champion
 
ELIOT
The Canucks will vanquish their tormentors, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, in the first round and surge from there.
DATER
I'd like the Canucks better if they had Manny Malhotra on hand as their critical third-line center, but there is still enough here to survive the West's hot-coal walk to the final. The Sedins are a nightmare to defend.
KWAK
The road to the Stanley Cup Final will not be easy for the Canucks, who must confront their recent past right away with a series vs. Chicago. Playoff titans like the Red Wings and Ducks may loom, but the Canucks have been top-to-bottom the class of the league this season.
CAZENEUVE
The Canucks must survive the first round in the favorite's role vs. the Blackhawks, who outhit and outplayed them in the playoffs last season. Vancouver has much more defensive depth now, though the loss of Manny Malhotra forces other players to step up.
Western Conference Playoff Preview
Source: SI
Darren Eliot breaks down the biggest storylines from the West heading into the playoffs.
 
Stanley Cup Champion
 
ELIOT
The Canucks have built to this Presidents' Trophy/Cup favorite point over the past several seasons. If you can't pick them this year, I don't know when you would.
DATER
The Canucks long quest ends. How about holding the Stanley Cup celebration in Vancouver's Stanley Park? Has a nice ring to it, pun intended.
KWAK
Some cite the Presidents' Trophy curse and expect it to strike the Canucks. Maybe this superstitious coincidence will save them: Montreal hosted the 1976 Olympics; the Canadiens won the Cup in '77. Calgary hosted in ?88; the Flames won it in '89. Vancouver hosted in 2010.
CAZENEUVE
Vancouver's defensive depth will be paramount in lessening the workload for goalie Roberto Luongo, who needs to face as few pucks and bumps as possible over 25 games. The Canucks' puck pursuit will wear down foes force them to work.
 
Surprise Team
 
ELIOT
The Lightning will beat the Penguins in the first round, validating their progress under first-year GM Steve Yzerman. Former Penguin Ryan Malone should play a big role in the series win.
DATER
The plucky Sabres will cut down Philadelphia in the first round. Revenge for 1975? Not quite, but it's a start.
KWAK
Charging into the postseason on the hot stick of Corey Perry and surprisingly sound goaltending by Ray Emery and Dan Ellis, the Ducks look like they have confidence to spare.
CAZENEUVE
The Ducks now have the league's hottest player in Corey Perry playing on its hottest line with Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. And we haven't mentioned Teemu Selanne. Granted, this team isn't about healthy, steady goaltending, but that hasn't stopped its late-season surge.
 
Flop Team
 
ELIOT
The Penguins make a first-round exit as the injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin prove too much to overcome in playoffs. The disappointment lies in what might have been.
DATER
That would be the Flyers, who just haven't been right during the final weeks of the regular schedule after looking unbeatable in the first two-thirds of the season.
KWAK
The Flyers' limp to the finish is troublesome, and injured defenseman Chris Pronger's status looms large. Even if he plays at anything less than 50 percent, Philly will have a hard time getting out of the first round.
CAZENEUVE
The bell must toll for the Red Wings some time. Nick Lidstrom was minus-2 this season and has showed signs of slowing. Jimmy Howard's GAA of 2.79 is high and his play waxes and wanes. If those two key players aren't on, Detroit could be gone early.
 
Unlikely Hero
 
Teemu Selanne :: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
ELIOT
Mason Raymond, left wing, Canucks: Guys who fall into the gifted grinder role often excel in the playoffs. This year, it's Raymond scoring momentum-changing and game-winning goals.

DATER
Tyler Ennis, left wing, Sabres: The kid had a very nice 20-goal rookie season, producing 49 points while playing the full schedule. Look for him to make a bigger name for himself in the first round.

KWAK
Teemu Selanne, right wing, Ducks: Their top line will deservedly get most of the attention, but their 40-year-old engine will continue to defy logic and time. With 31 goals this season, his best total since 2006-07, Selanne creates mismatches for teams too preoccupied with the Ducks' top three.

CAZENEUVE
Keith Yandle, defenseman, Coyotes: We saw how good Duncan Keith could be in Chicago's run to a title last year. Yandle has given the Yotes a needed power-play quarterback who can move the puck and generate scoring from the back on a team that's balanced up front.
 
Conn Smythe Winner
 
Ryan Kesler :: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images
ELIOT
Ryan Kesler, center, Canucks: He epitomizes the Canucks' overall development as a well-rounded, hard-to-play-against performer in all situations. This spring is his, and the team's, culmination and coronation.

DATER
Henrik Sedin, center, Canucks: Twin brother Daniel is expected to succeed him as the Hart Trophy-winner, but Henrik will be the better Sedin in the playoffs.

KWAK
Ryan Kesler, center, Canucks: As the playoffs wear on, expect the center's tenacity, doggedness, and well-rounded game ? offense, defense, power play, penalty kill -- to make more of a difference.

CAZENEUVE
Roberto Luongo, goaltender, Canucks: Vancouver's NHL-best record allowed them to spell him with Cory Schneider a bit down the stretch, which should keep him from wearing down. If the defense lightens his load, Luongo should bring this great hockey city its first Stanley Cup.
 

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